The Alice Petersen Collection
An Uncanny Discovery Behind a Fireplace Wall
Stockyard worker took many pictures many would have thought mundane. A treasure today.
The Stockyards gave her a start
Uncanny, I thought, when the archivist handed me the old photographs. But then again, in my line of work doing family history, I have come to believe that in this work, perhaps there are no coincidences.
On the table before me sat a jackpot of images related to the Ogden Stockyards. These 60-year-old albums illuminated exactly what I craved seeing. They were intimate angles other people didn’t think to photograph because they must have seemed mundane at the time.
The photographs include intimate angles other people didn’t think to capture because they must have seemed mundane at the time. But Alice saw more.
Sarah Singh from Weber State University Special Collections said, “These literally just came in. They haven’t even been indexed yet. I knew you would be excited.” When I asked of their origin she said, “The estate of Alice Petersen just donated them.”
Alice Petersen died in 2015, but the collection arrived exactly when they could help me tell the stockyard story. After snapping digital images of the original photos for my own records, I wanted to learn more about Alice and to honor her in this project. I wanted to make sure she got credit, and to remember her.
My next step was an Internet search. I found her obituary but little else, and nothing in FamilySearch. It was a brief obituary that did not mention a spouse or children. Who was she? And who was the Executor who had the wisdom to donate her photos? My interest was more than a desire to be diligent in my research. It felt important. Important because just days earlier I had “put it into he universe” that I was looking for stories about the stockyards might still want to be told.
It felt eerie that just days after the prayer and conversation, I walked into Weber State and was handed these photos. As additional context, that same week another story woke me up at 3 a.m., and I spent time tracking down the details of an Indian orphan adopted by Mormon Pioneers. I wrote up the lovely story of this woman and the hair prickled on my arms, giving me the sense that these stories wanted to be told. The dear ones on the other side want to be remembered.
Given that I had asked for stuff like this to show up, I wanted to honor and remember Alice. Who was she?
I sent an email to Weber State and received the Executor’s address. So, I sent a letter in March of last year (2017) and hoped Alden Talbot might respond. I heard nothing and was chagrined to assume that that perhaps he was a hired Executor, such as from a law firm. Maybe he had little real interest in her life, or maybe he didn’t really know her.
Then, the week of January 15, 2018 I received a voice message from Alden Talbot, executor of her estate. He said he had been touched by my letter but hadn’t gotten around to getting back with me. I can relate to how busy life can be. Meanwhile, he found additional photos he thought I might want. On Friday, January 19 we arranged for him to come by my studio/home at 726 25th Street (down the hill from where he lives) to deliver the photos and tell me what he knew about Alice.
Alden Talbot was not a hired executor as I had once assumed, but rather, a neighbor and good friend. He cared for her a great deal and his family spent a lot of time with her. He helped her with repairs around the house. Later, he purchased her home (a duplex) on the condition that she could live there for as long as she liked. Alice knew he would take good care of the place and fix it up after she was gone, instead of leaving it to her great niece and nephew. He spoke of Alice with a great deal of warmth and genuine friendship, and it was Alden who stood up for Alice’s wishes after she was gone.
Here a sketch of Alice’s life.
Alice H. Petersen always hated her middle name and made Alden promise Alden to not use it on her headstone or obituary. So, I shall honor that request.
She was born in Ogden, Utah in 1926 and moved to Chicago. Her father died, and Alice spent most of her life with the sad feeling that he passed away before she was born and that he never lived to meet her. Then, when Alice was around two years old, her mother died too, leaving her orphaned.
She had an uncle Christensen and Grandfather Christensen who lived on C street down near the Ogden Union Stockyards, and her uncle and family agreed to take her in. She never had much to say about her Uncle, except that she felt he only took her in for the money and that she spent all the time she could with her grandfather who lived across the street. She loved her grandfather, and her stated affection toward him stands in contrast to the omission of the same sentiment toward her Uncle. In one of the photos in her collection, the uncle looks like a rough and tumble character.
Her grandfather was a welder and worked at the Stockyards for many years, and welded many of the drop-down hinges and other hardware in the Stockyards. The collection of photos given by Alden includes some of him, along with his portable welding machine.
Alice did have one cousin, Ruth, who she loved and spent a lot of time with throughout her life. Ruth had two children, and Alice later bequeathed half of her estate to these two children. The other half went to the children of her best friend.
Alice loved going down to the Stockyards and observing all the activity there. She graduated from Ogden High in the early years of that grand school, and while in high school she got a job in the Stockyards. This was convenient because she could walk there, and her uncle would not let her drive. As soon as she had saved up enough money, she bought her own car and her Uncle kicked her out of the house before she graduated from high school because she was not abiding by his rules.
She loved dogs and had dogs her whole life. Many of the photos in her collection are of animals.
She really enjoyed working in the Exchange Building, and expressed gratitude for having been given early breaks there. Some of the guys would tease her because she would not shy away from going down into the yard and helping with the animals, but she loved animals and didn’t mind that kind of work. She received great on-the-job training, and later went to Weber College to receive an accounting degree. It is not known how long she worked there, but many of the photos in her collection were of the big flood that happened in 1952, so she may have been there for a decade, maybe more, maybe less.
Her pension statements say that the Ogden Union Stockyards was her official employer and not one of the other organizations with offices there.
After she finished her degree, she went to work and Great Salt Lake Mine and Mineral where she finished her career. One of the best photos in the lot shows Alice in an office setting. She said some of the guys were giving her a bad time so she is “smarting off,” and it looks like she is pulling up her skirt a bit to show some leg. It is a cute, sassy photo.
She lived in various places in Ogden but ultimately moved into a duplex next to where Alden Talbot and family would later move. When the owner of the duplex died, she bequeathed it to Alice and Alice owned it until later in life when she old it to Alden on the condition that she could live there for as long as she wanted, and on the condition Alden would serve as executor of her estate.
Alden opened the conversation with a warm description of her as a “great lady,” although he acknowledged that she was “different,” and could be a “bit of a Scrooge about Christmas.” She did not really care for children. She rarely had people in her home because her dog “destroyed everything,” and when the Talbots first moved in, she kindly asked them to keep to their side of the plastic fence.
With time, however, the relationship thawed and she went in the cost of on a chain link fence. She would pass goodies over the fence for Alden saying, “This is for your Dad. I don’t want any of you damn kids eating it.” But Alden said, “That was just her way.” Still, she spent a lot of time with the Talbot family and she was a good neighbor and friend.
The Talbot kids thought she disliked them but even though she was not active in the LDS Church, she still attended their baptisms and other functions.
Before she passed away she asked her best friend to “take good care of my kids,” meaning the Talbot kids, and she left them each $3,000 from her estate. They then understood her warm feelings of love for them. “My kids.” Alden got choked up when he told this part of the story.
One time in the Talbot home, she expressed her sadness that her dad never got to meet her and Mrs. Talbot said, “How do you know for sure?” Then, Mrs. Talbot went into FamilySearch and found Alice’s birthdate and her father’s death date. She was able to tell Alice that her father passed away when Alice was about a year old; he had met his little girl before dying. When Alice heard this revelation, she broke into tears.
In her later years, Alice volunteered at the Golden Hours Senior Center and was a Red Hat lady. She was involved with one of the service clubs like the Lion’s Club or Elks (one that has a women’s auxiliary arm), and the club was grateful when Alden donated historical items to them. In her obituary, she requested that instead of flowers, donations be made to the animal shelter.
She wondered if she should reach out to see if anyone would be interested in her memories of the Stockyards and Alden urged her to do so, but she said,
“Nobody would be interested in what I have to say.”
How heartbreaking that her insecurities kept her from sharing, and now we have only fragments. What I would give to talk to her in person!
Alice only wanted a short obituary and a modest graveside service thinking that very few would come. Alden was touched to see how well-attended the service was, by classmates from Ogden High where she never missed a reunion, folks from Golden Hours, neighbors, and others from her service club.
After Alden started remodeling and updating her half of the duplex, he got into the fireplace, which she had closed off after officials made a fuss about burning wood and coal. There, at the back of it was a wooden box containing her photos, the box he brought me on January 19, 2018.
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together, weaving family and business together. Check out her latest book Remember When, the inspiring Norma and Jim Kier story.